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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. Matt Marshall
    June 29, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

    Oddly enough I first watched this episode just the other day. It did strike me as "hey, is this an anti-video games story?" but the plot isn't about everyone getting so addicted to the game that they stop functioning (as I assumed at the start), it's that the game is literally a mind-control device. If it were an anti-video games story, I doubt Brannon Braga's main concern is that Sonic the Hedgehog is dangerous because it is being used by the Russians or Chinese to hypnotise American citizens. It doesn't function as a criticism of the dangers of video games, because any criticism is nonsensical (they'll mind-control you!) and if it is, does that mean The King In Yellow is anti-books? You could read it as anti-video games at a stretch, but you have to ignore the plot, and that the use of the holodeck is a long-term TNG metaphor for gaming and seen as both good and bad. Would it have been better if the mind-controlling game had been replaced with something else? It wouldn't have actually affected the plot much.

    That said, despite the episode not being that great, I actually enjoyed that it was Wesley of all people who didn't get sucked into it, as you'd assume the young nerd boy would be first in queue for the computer game, but no, he's trying to hook up with a girl.

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  2. Ross
    June 30, 2015 @ 12:46 am

    The threat portrayed in the story does not have to be realistic for the story to function deliberately as a moral invective against video games. It's a metaphor. Video game addiction is treated as morally equivalent to alien mind control.

    It's what Tvtropes calls a "Space Whale Aesop", for the obvious reason that this very franchise did a feature film based around the idea that driving whales to extintion is bad because powerful aliens might come wipe out all life on earth.

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  3. Matt Marshall
    June 30, 2015 @ 1:40 am

    Perhaps, it just seems odd if that was the intention to do it in that way. If you wanted to highlight the moral dangers of video games, there's far better arguments than 'because they'll enslave your mind'. For example, the Lotus Eaters scenario, where I did think the episode was originally heading.

    I suppose the 'mind enslaving' could work as a metaphor in terms of 'playing violent video games makes you violent' but it's so total and obviously mind control, and Picard doesn't spend half the episode throwing a disk into a cup on his desk. I'm not denying that it couldnt' be a metaphor, just that occam's razor suggests that it's probably not as it's a crap one that has to stretch when they are far easier ways of doing it right there.

    I mean, Hollow Pursuits showed they were not above looking at that sort of issue in an intelligent manner from both sides.

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  4. K. Jones
    June 30, 2015 @ 3:31 am

    I think I saw something of a direct correlation between these VR devices and Nintendo's ubiquitous Game Boy, which came out in 1989 and by this season of Trek must have been seen everywhere, in like every kid's hands, and possibly a few adults, too. It would be weird to see hand-held gaming just suddenly, magically appear.

    The metaphors seem fairly obvious and well-trod already (do we even need to mention that the name of the ship being hijacked is fucking "Enterprise"?), but I always got a bit of a vibe as well that seemed to come from a privileged place – that is, this feels like it was written by a "boss" or "employer" concerned that these foreign devices were cutting into employee productivity. And that maybe those damned industrious Japanese were trying to weaken the American economy, dagnabbit!

    But seriously, as someone born just a month or two after Super Mario's American debut, who literally grew up in games, around games, was inspired by games to create art, still plays games as an adult, it just makes you want to go back in time and give them a big "fuck you".

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    June 30, 2015 @ 7:29 am

    "But seriously, as someone born just a month or two after Super Mario's American debut, who literally grew up in games, around games, was inspired by games to create art, still plays games as an adult, it just makes you want to go back in time and give them a big 'fuck you'."

    Hear, hear.

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  6. Adam Riggio
    June 30, 2015 @ 9:47 am

    The weird thing is, thanks to the ridiculous, hackneyed storyline and the plot summary of "Wesley saves the day . . . again!" I've always misremembered The Game as having been a Season Two episode. It just seems more appropriate to the stumbles of that period of TNG.

    It is interesting to see, in an episode where Riker becomes the weak link to introduce the malevolent game to the Enterprise thanks to his occasional Kirk-channelling sex tourism, Wesley is the one who gets the action-romance plot with Ashley Judd.

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  7. John Biles
    June 30, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    I'd always assumed it was a metaphor for drugs, given this was the height of SAY NO TO DRUGS, etc.

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  8. Froborr
    July 1, 2015 @ 11:28 am

    The element I think you're missing, Matt, is that in 1991, in the U.S., video games WERE an alien plot to mind control children. Remember, 1991 is the HEIGHT of "the Japanese are going to buy America" paranoia, and for most of the 80s and 90s console video games were pretty much entirely dominated by Japan.

    Consider, for instance, the title of 1993's Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children. (Oddly, despite the title the book is mostly admiring of Nintendo? But then again what it admires the company for is ruthless conquest and marketing savvy, so maybe not that odd.)

    Substitute "Enterprise" for "Industry" and that's pretty much this episode.

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  9. Froborr
    July 1, 2015 @ 11:29 am

    Sorry, that should be "WERE perceived as an alien plot" etc.

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  10. elvwood
    July 2, 2015 @ 12:29 am

    I was at the other end of the video games industry to most commenters, since I was writing them at the time (albeit for home computers rather than consoles). I rolled my eyes a bit at the way games were portrayed in this story – as I often did then – but I must admit I thought it was mainly about drugs, too.

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